LEWISTON – Politicians, educators and business people will step away from their normal routines Wednesday, pick up a children’s book and read to pre-schoolers at up to 50 locations throughout Lewiston-Auburn.

It’s part of a first-ever “20 Minutes a Day, Ready for K” campaign to encourage adults to read every day to babies, toddlers and preschoolers.

Reading simple books like “Clifford the Big Red Dog,” or “The Foot Book” can make powerful differences, said Betty Gundersdorf, director of Lewiston Adult Education, one of the event’s coordinators. Children as young as babies and toddlers benefit by being read to. Their young brains are wired to learn language, she said.

The best predictor of school success is a child’s pre-reading skills when they reach kindergarten, Gundersdorf said.

Children who are regularly read to develop skills that will help them learn to read. Those skills include: knowing their letters, their numbers, understanding what letters sound like, how to hold a book, understanding reading is done from the left to the right, and sitting still long enough to take in a story.

Youngsters who enter kindergarten without those skills “have to work extra hard,” Gundersdorf said. “They’re always in a catch-up mode.”

Locally, many who enter kindergarten each fall don’t have the pre-reading skills, said Lewiston School Superintendent Leon Levesque. “Some are very ready. Others could be one year, two, even three years behind.”

Some come from homes where they’re read to and see others read. But others “unfortunately come from homes where the TV is used as a baby-sitter, and children are not read to,” said Martel Elementary School principal Stephen Whitfield.

Schools try to compensate, “but we don’t have the luxury of time,” Levesque said, especially when expectations are on the rise.

Levesque agrees with the No Child Left Behind goal that all students should be reading at their grade level by grade 3. “But when we start the race without an equal footing, it’s grossly unfair.”

The idea for “20 Minutes a Day, Ready for K!” came about after educators wondered about what if more students were ready for kindergarten. A child’s first teachers are the parents, Levesque said. “We want to create a sense of awareness” that early reading is critical.

To get ready for Wednesday, more than 10,000 “ready … read” flyers were distributed to doctor’s offices, day care providers, businesses, hospitals, and social service organizations. Pledge cards asking parents and others to commit to read to their preschoolers are also being distributed.

Celebrity readers are signed up for certain locations. First Lady Karen Baldacci will read at the Auburn Public Library. Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce President Chip Morrison will read at the Lewiston Public Library. Lewiston-Auburn mayors Lionel and Normand Guay will read at pre-schools.